When producing creative content – the authors / editors / publishers need to think about the target market they want to reach – and that has kept the board game scene slightly stale, during the 90s and early 00s. At least as far as theme.
Geek Culture or the geek chic trend wasn’t a thing yet – and so the small publishers, mostly tied to book publishers or toy manufacturers – would stick with safe-ish themes. Themes that would make their products palatable for families – either by just being harmlessly infantilised or by having some sort of pedagogic purpose.
Board gaming in the 90s / early 00s
I remember having board game nights when I was a kid: we used to play a lot of Trivial Pursuit, Lotto and Monopoly. As I grew up, our market was finally hit with some foreign goodies – like my still treasured copy of the Ravensburger’s Labyrinth.
Eventually new things started showing up – decades before Will Wheaton’s Tabletop series, among many others, helped to bring the hobby into the spotlight. A fair share of these games were either quiz-based or had an historical theme as its setting. Some of them both, like Mar Largo, a gem I have recently dug from my child toy-vault.
Here the gameplay is quiz-based and the theme remains “safe”. We are talking about history and particularly about the time we’ve ruled half of the known world. A great Christmas gift from either teacher-pet aunts, obsessed with school, or nationalist grandpas still trying to rekindle those long gone “good old days”…
This was the rule for a while. There were also a few board games sponsored by brands or city councils, as an innovative attempt of institutional outreach. And that was it – games were mostly an educational tool or a sponsored media.
As far as social acceptance, there were already a few small communities forming – usually associated with game shops, such as Devir Arena in Lisboa and Porto and Diver in Leiria. Tabletop miniature games and trading card games (such as Magic: the Gathering and VTES) also had their own small close-knit communities. Gaming wasn’t a particularly popular hobbie, but this was just the beginning.
Late noughties up to now
The evolution of board gamers happened – in part organically as the first Magic: The Gathering players got older and started managing their own money and with the advent of social networks. More and more fellow gamers would flock to virtual spaces, forums and newsboards to find kindred spirits with similar interests. Also, more and more the board games were featured on the general media (eg. Big Bang Theory, IT Crowd,…) – and this helped to cement the status of an actual hobbie for normal people – and not just for a fringe bunch of socially-awkward degenerates.
And this happened in Portugal as well – maybe with a slight lag when compared with other places.
Larger communities were created – even outside the major cities – that have started organizing weekly game nights. The first few yearly Cons started in throughout the country – even in places far away from Lisbon. Much like it happened in the UK or US, bookstores and supermarkets started having a dedicated board game section. And with the increased interest in board games – the first Portuguese publishers started pushing out their own designs and they have been at it ever since.
The first few games published still followed the history simulator tropes – and eventually we were also treated to some rather heavy-ish economic euro-style simulators.
But times are a-changin’, my Sci-Fi & Fantasy friends. With a market in clear expansion, more than a handful of large Board game Conventions organized throughout the country and the first board game-dedicated cafe being an amazing success story – publishers and designers are no longer playing it safe. And our favourite themes are slowly starting to show up on the menu.
The Story So Far…
Besides Multiuniversum which we’ve talked about on the last post – there were a few other sci-fi / fantasy games designed or published by portuguese. Here’s a few examples:
Ragami (Gil D’Orey / Pedro Soto) – MESA Board games (MEBO)
Launched in 2016 – Ragami is set in the modern days. But our reality has an hidden layer – there are celestial beings around us, some nice and some not-so-nice. In Ragami you’ll play the role of angel-like creatures that are protecting the humans from sources of distress, either from their day to day lives, or made by the occasional demonic interference.
Ascended (David Costa) – Saved Game Lda.
Ascended is probably the closest to a thematic RPG board game designed by a Portuguese. Here you are playing the role of a creature that wakes up cold, amnesiac and alone on a devastated icy biome. You’ll need to find a way to survive the rough elements. But those massive footprints you’re starting to find more and more frequently as you explore your surroundings are leaving you a bit uneasy…
In this game you’ll explore this icy world, you’ll search for artifacts, fight villains and mutate to gain abilities to better help you to cope with your newfound reality. The game also features a solo mode and a cool day / night cycle mechanic, that will substantially change your board and the resources and actions available to you.
Kosmonauts (Nadezhda Penkrat, Yury Yamshchikov, Filipe Alves, Gil d’Orey)
Kosmonauts is a race game set in Space. Each player needs to pilot his ship to race the others in order to be the first to land in each planet of our Solar System – and then return to Earth.
What makes it harder is that all the planets move from turn to turn and you’ll get more points by landing on any planet if you do it before your mates. The game revolves around energy management and has a clever throttle system, where you can increase or decrease your speed in 6 different directions. Careful planning is encouraged – after all, you might end up landing on the Sun and that’s NOT part of the plan.
Zura (Inon Kohn / Pedro Codeço) – Agie Games
Last year, Agie games took us to a fantasy setting with Zura, one of the debut games from this new publisher.
Zura is set on a peaceful whymsical world where suddenly all the stars in the sky vanish. In Zura, you play the role of children that are forced to leave their village on a quest to find mythical creatures – the Tzerzurians – who hold the key for the village’s survival. Zura is a small card game that combines a memory game with set collection. Easy to learn, but challenging at the same time.
Agie Games is currently funding Botanists on Kickstarter.
Dragon Keepers (Vital Lacerda / Catarina Lacerda / Mihajlo Dimitrievski)
Knight Works, LLC
From one of the best known portuguese designers – this time with his daughter as a co-author – comes a fantasy-based card game. This was a multi-generational labour of love. This time you are not here to kill dragons – but to protect them from an evil bunch of hunters.
Worth mentioning is the inclusion of 2 game modes – cooperative and competitive. You will be throwing dice to find which of the cutesy dragons are being targeted and selecting your actions – in secret – to either protect, heal or evolve your dragons into winged beings of fiery destruction. Eventually you’ll even have to fight back against the baddies. This game’s kickstarter campaign pledges were fulfilled very recently, so expect to find it on retail shortly.
Final word – for a taste of things to come…
So this is just a small sample of what Portugal has to offer in sci-fi and fantasy themed board games. We will try to cover each of these games in greater detail in future posts.
On my next post I will look at what is being done now – what projects are currently being forged by our creators. Without wanting to spoil much, 2019 is looking great! Stay tuned as there is plenty more portuguese cardboard fun to be had in the near future.